M80 Ball ammunition

M80 Ball Ammunition Roundup

Given the shortage of ammunition, surplus M80 Ball ammo and its civilian equivalents may be your only choice for .308 Win. practice. Here's how nine options perform.

By Steve Adelmann (RSS)
May 13, 2013

I honestly never thought I would see the day when we would have to choose between shooting regularly to maintain proficiency and having some ammunition in reserve “just in case,” but that is exactly where are at folks. If you think I am kidding, cruise the lots of local retail firearms businesses several mornings in a row. Eventually you will figure out which day the ammo comes in, because you will find a bunch of shooting enthusiasts waiting politely, but anxiously, in line for a few boxes of precious gun fodder. Firearms are trickling into dealer stock rooms and parts onto gunsmiths’ benches, but only drips and drabs of the stuff we feed our blasters are making it into consumers’ hands. One thing I can say for sure about the current ammo shortage is ammunition manufacturers are not to blame. Most companies are working as hard as they can to get as much product out as possible without sacrificing quality. The demand is simply too much for them to keep up with, and I cannot see that changing anytime soon.

My business consumes 150 to 300 rounds of centerfire rifle ammunition in an average week, sometimes much more than that. That means I am constantly on the prowl for available and affordable fodder. Several months ago, I noticed one of the few types of .308 Win. ammunition available was commercial versions of the U.S. military’s M80 “Ball” load. M80 (and NATO equivalents) has been around for a few decades, being issued in belted and boxed variants for semi- and full-automatic military arms. This load is often used in designated-marksman long arms and has even been pressed into service in sniper rifles used in the War on Terror.

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Depending on the source, projectile weights range from 145 to 150 grains, all in a fully metal-jacketed, boattail configuration. Machine gun ammunition is often purposefully loaded to create dispersion at the target, creating a “beaten zone” to kill or incapacitate as many enemy personnel as possible with each burst. That fact usually makes it an unlikely choice for point targets. The U.S. military’s accuracy standard for M80 Ball (boxed or on stripper clips) is a mean average radius of 5 inches at 600 yards for all groups tested from a given lot of ammunition. That measurement loosely equates to a 10-inch circle or approximately 1.6 MOA at that distance. The standard for belted M80 is a 7.5-inch mean radius at 600 yards, or approximately a 15-inch/2.4-MOA circle. While in the Army, I fired various lots of M80 through my sniper rifles to gain “dope” just in case our match loads ran out in a combat theater. I was confident of hitting a bad-guy-size target, but I never thought of it as particularly suitable ammunition for accurate fire.

I decided it was time to find out if any of the available M80 equivalents would shoot well, so I gathered up nine brands and headed to the range for a test. My plan was simple: Use a practical rifle of known accuracy to shoot a small amount of each load at 100 yards, checking accuracy, reliability and velocity. I decided to use an 18-inch barreled AR and low-power optic for this exercise, reasoning that at best, this is a battle-rifle cartridge. I did try to factor out shooter error somewhat by using a good trigger (Geissele SSA-E) and shooting from a bag rest on a bench.

Prior to testing the M80 loads, I fired a known factory load (Hornady 168-grain A-Max) to get an accuracy baseline for the day. This .308 AR is capable of .6-inch groups at 100 yards, but the average this day for five, five round groups was .86 inch/.81 MOA. That is about as good as I can manage consistently using a 6.5X optic.

The M80 loads’ accuracy varied by brand in this small snapshot test, ranging from 1.5 to 2.5 inches for five-shot groups. Some of this stuff looked pretty rough out of the box, so I expected malfunctions, but every load operated as designed. I was surprised to see the standard deviation (SD) values for several brands measured less than 20 fps—far better than seen in true machine gun ammo. In terms of accuracy, I found the bulk of these M80 loads to be worthy of general-purpose shooting tasks.

Far from being relegated to belt-fed battle beasts chattering away in far off lands, commercial M80 Ball ammunition is relatively affordable, marginally available and capable of hitting targets with modest accuracy. That is about as good as we can expect in the current ammo market.

Shooting Results

Cartridge Designation and Origin

Muzzle Velocity

SD

Group Size

Smallest

Largest

Average

DAG/MEN 145-grain  (Germany)

2,628

20

1.3

2

1.6

Prvi Partizan 145-grain (Serbia)

2,714

19

1.3

2

1.7

Wolf 145-grain steel case (Russia)

2,609

21

1

2.6

2

R1M1  146-grain (South Africa)

2,685

37

1.9

3

2.4

Armscor 147-grain (USA)

2,704

16

0.8

2.7

1.9

Magtech/CBC 147-grain (Brazil)

2,696

13

0.98

2.2

1.5

PMC 147-grain (Republic Of Korea)

2,593

12

1.8

2.8

2.3

Winchester 147-grain (USA)

2,752

15

2.2

3

2.5

Lake City 149-grain (USA)

2,738

23

1.4

2.8

2.3

Velocity measured in fps 20 feet from the muzzle with an Oehler Model 35P chronograph. Temperature: 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Accuracy measured in inches for five consecutive, five shot groups at 100 yards from shooting bags. Testing performed with a Citizen Arms 18-inch-barreled AR with a Bushnell Tactical SMRS 1FP 1-6.5×24 mm scope with a BTR-2 reticle.

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Comments

8 Responses to M80 Ball Ammunition Roundup

  1. rookieguide@gmail.com says:

    Was all the M80 current manufacture, or was there any surplus ammo used in this test? If all current, what is your opinion/assessment of surplus like IMI, AUS, etc…?

  2. Rookieguide: The DAG, R1M1 and Lake City loads were definitely surplus. It is likely that the Winchester was also commercially boxed surplus but I cannot verify that. The rest appear to have been commercially produced M80 equivalents. I was unable to obtain any other nation’s NATO loads to test so I can’t render any opinion on them.

  3. Brian says:

    Just for grins you should test some of the Pakistani and Indian M80 ammo when you have a chance. Might be interesting to see how it actually does. Seems to me I’ve heard nothing but horror stories about it.

  4. Brian, thanks for the suggestion. I considered including that and some other 3rd world stuff in this evaluation but ultimately did not because it is corrosive. Although good cleaning practices will mitigate the corrosive primer issues, as a rule I do not use corrosive ammo in any of my guns.

    • randolph says:

      if you know, could you convey the velocities needed to achieve the armor piecing power for these bullets. i have found no solid load data for loading 300 AAC with these bullets. i did find someone that had done a little field work in loads and they determined that 16.5gn of win 296 was sufficient. i am loading these bullets for my 300 AAC and using 17gn of win 296, but i do not know what he velocities are for these rounds and am not set up to test. advice? is it a waste to load with these pulled bullets?

  5. Randolph, I’m not sure what you’re looking to do with the handloaded projectiles but M80 Ball projectiles aren’t known for their armor piercing capabilities. They’re great for target fodder and I’ve found that handloading them carefully will yield decent accuracy. But these are simply copper jacketed, lead core projectiles. At one time you could find surplus .30 WWII AP bullets (pulled) that were legal to own but they’ve pretty much dried up. As you likely know, true AP ammunition has some rather odd state and federal restrictions on it so check to be sure you’re not getting yourself into trouble.

  6. Gary Birtch says:

    I tested the DAG and MEN version of the German AB11 (M80) rounds using a chronograph. SD for the DAG was 8 and SD for the MEN was 14. This was out of a Larue AR-10. 30 shots each with a warm rifle. Conversely, I was hard pressed to get an SD of 20 out of the Federal M80 ammo, and had to resort to weighing the bullets to get it down. (Which did work…)

  7. left coast chuck says:

    There is some 147 grain Winchester ball out there that has a steel jacket. I know, I bought $200 worth of it and didn’t bother to check with the retailer to see if it had any steel in the bullet and only found out when it arrived and someone else told me about Winchester shipping steel jacket ball ammo. Checked mine, sure enough, steel jacket. That doesn’t affect its accuracy or anything else, except here in SoCal the Forest Service will not allow any steel bullets on any of its lands which is a large chunk of SoCal and many shooting facilities won’t allow steel bullets either. If you live in SoCal, be sure to check with the retailer about the composition of the bullet. If the retailer can’t tell you positively and won’t take it back if it turns out it is steel, don’t buy it. If you are in a store, check it with a magnet before you buy it. It doesn’t matter what the box says. Red Army 7.62 x 39 box says “lead core.” What it doesn’t say is “bimetal jacket” or “copper washed steel jacket bullet”. My nasty suspicious mind says that the oversight was not accidental, but then just because I am paranoid doesn’t mean that I am not right.

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